Jon Baines Tour dates: 13 – 26 September 2014
An opportunity to explore, and learn more about, The Golden Road to Samarkand and Turkmenistan, the Silk Road, its links to China, the Roman Empire and how it has influenced the world today.
Explore Turkmenistan, whose desert cities have silently observed the passing of some of history’s most dominant empires. Unforgiving terrain and an outlandish governing personality cult have, until recently, barred the way to this intriguing republic.
Uzbekistan is the land-locked heart of Central Asia’s evocative Silk Road. The stunning architecture of its ancient cities links the empires of China and Persia and reflects layers of history that take in the giddy pinnacles of civilisation and culture but also the depths of oppression.
Journalist and author Jonathan Fryer leads this tour and his talks will provide a chronological narrative, telling the story of the Silk Road in Central Asia from ancient China and the Roman Empire to the present day.
Travelling off the beaten track has many rewards. It allows you to immerse yourself in an authentic and ancient culture untouched by mass tourism and the homogenisation so often seen in popular tourist destinations around the world. Watch out for hidden gems such as the Tabib clinic, the metro in Tashkent or perhaps an exuberant traditional Turkmen wedding.
Arrive in Tashkent, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Central Asia. Visit the Museum of Applied Arts where the curator will guide you through the decorative arts of Central Asia, providing context for the sites to come.
Next morning visit the Hast Imam and walk through the Chagatai Cemetery for a history of some of Uzbekistan’s more contemporary historical figures. Drive to Samarkand, listening to a talk on ‘A Background to Central Asia’ en route. Arrive at a tabib (a Sufi clinic) for lunch and a tour before continuing to Samarkand via the honey bazaar.
City of myth and fable, Samarkand is synonymous with the exoticism of the Silk Road. Founded in the 5th century BC, razed to the ground by Genghis Khan in 1220 and re-built as Tamerlane’s capital in 1370, the Silk Road’s centrepiece is once more a thriving cultural and trading centre. Tamerlane’s stamp can still be seen in superb Islamic architecture, while the city of old lives on in the main bazaar.
The following morning visit Langar village, nestled deep in the surrounding foothills, and continue onto Shakre Sabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane. Visit a winery for some local wine and cognac tasting.
Hear a talk on ‘Horses, Alfalfa, Jade – the Silk Road” and drive on through the cotton fields to Bukhara. Stop en route at a local pottery, where sixth generation potters produce needle-fine work in a traditional vividly coloured floral design.
Spend the next day exploring Bukhara, which looks much as it did 200 years ago.
A morning expedition the following day visits the city’s great fortress and the prison (zidan) with its infamous Bug Pit. In the nineteenth century the British officers Connolly and
Stoddart were held here prior to their public execution. Hear a talk on “Foreign Devils of the
Arrive in Khiva, once the region’s biggest slave trade centre, notorious for its harshness. Khiva remains perhaps the best preserved of all the Silk Road cities, a living museum that a full day’s tour will reveal. Drive into the desert after nightfall and listen to traditional Khorzem music round a camp fire.
Next morning cross the border into Turkmenistan and fly to Ashgabat.
Ashgabat is a surreal mixture of Turkmen and Soviet tradition with many large scale extravagances that were fuelled by a combination of oil, gas and the unchecked whims of the late President ‘Turkmenbashi’ Niyazov. In the evening savour local caviar with views across Ashgabat’s glittering marble and gold towers.
Next morning visit the excellent National Museum and take an orientation tour of the city. Hear a talk on “The Silk Road Today” and spend the afternoon at leisure to explore the bazaars and beer gardens of Ashgabat.
Enjoy a farewell dinner on your final night and depart Ashgabat the following morning.
The cost of the tour including flights from London is £3,360
Tour Leader Jonathan Fryer is a freelance British writer, lecturer and broadcaster who has reported from around the world for a variety of magazines, radio and television stations (notably for the BBC’s programme “From Our Own Correspondent”) since he started his journalism career covering the Vietnam War. He is the author of more than a dozen non-fiction books — mainly history and biography — and teaches a course in Humanities at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).